Madam Minister, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the ICRC, the International Federation and National Red Crescent and Red Cross Societies, I thank you for your invitation to this exchange of information and views on the humanitarian aspects of the present Iraq crisis which many fear might escalate into a full-fledged war.
If war cannot be avoided, it is imperative that the future belligerents fully respect the provisions of international humanitarian law, such as the obligation to protect persons who do not or no longer participate in hostilities, to distinguish between civilians and combatants as well as between civilian objects and military objectives. Strict respect for this body of law can prevent or at least mitigate human suffering in times of war.
The Representatives of the ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies will take this opportunity to report on their respective activities and the established mechanisms for co-ordination inside and outside the international Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. A particularly close relationship has been built up with the UNHCR in this respect. The important role of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, in particular the great efforts already deployed by the Red Crescent Societies of the region, will no doubt be underlined in their presentations. These National Societies are indeed an essential part of Civil society, especially in times of crisis.
I see this meeting as a platform to take stock of existing and planned response activities and capacities. The distinction between "existing" and "planned" makes, as you are all aware, a lot of sense, especially in times of emergency. Possible gaps should be identified and referred to the existing co-ordination mechanisms for a speedy resolution.
One last point: to bring protection and assistance to the civilian population in times of armed conflict is at the core of the mandate of the ICRC. It knows only too well the individual and collective suffering each war entails for the populations concerned. The ICRC has been active in Iraq for 23 years. The ICRC intends to remain operational even in case of war, as it did in 1991. The ICRC hopes war can be avoided. So do the other component of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.